Ofsted finds impact of Covid on learning and development of 'almost all children'

Catherine Gaunt
Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Ofsted’s annual report for 2020/21, published today, highlights the impact of the pandemic on children and staff working in early years, schools and colleges.

Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector
Amanda Spielman, Ofsted chief inspector

Chief inspector Amanda Spielman wrote, ‘Almost all children felt the impact of Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions to some extent. Many of the youngest children had their development and progress hampered, with some even regressing. Given the vital importance to children of a good start in life and the learning potential of the youngest children, this must not be overlooked.

‘In primary and secondary schools, children struggled with a hokey-cokey education: in the classroom, at home, separated in bubbles, isolating alone.’

The annual report highlights research carried out by Ofsted published last December, on the impact of the first lockdown on children, with 44 per cent of providers reporting that children’s personal, social and emotional development had fallen behind.

As a result, providers put more emphasis on care practice and personal development.

Differences in children’s physical development were also noted, with a loss in physical confidence among children that had less access to outdoor space during lockdown.

Providers responded by using their outdoor areas more frequently, promoting physical skills and imaginative play.

Most providers adapted their daily routines to give more time to emotional well-being, health and self-care, Ofsted said, teaching children about personal hygiene and independent self-care. Some adapted their curriculum in response to changes in children’s needs, refocusing the curriculum on areas in which children had fallen behind, for example maths and communication.

‘Though providers told us they were not able to offer all the usual activities and experiences because of Covid-19 restrictions, some said this had made them think more carefully about what they wanted the children to learn,’ said the report.

Children’s behaviour

‘Unsurprisingly, the first national lockdown disrupted routines, and some children were struggling to eat, play and learn to a fixed timetable,’ said Ofsted. ‘In addition to a disrupted routine, many children also needed to relearn social skills such as sharing and playing with each other nicely. However, some providers told
us that some children with siblings at home to play with had actually improved their social skills.

‘Providers reported that some children were angry, some had shorter attention spans and were more difficult to engage, and some were less inquisitive. However, behaviour improved during the autumn term and most children were able to adapt to a learning pattern and more easily engage with activities.’

Childcare demand

The report also highlights that providers operated with fewer children on roll during the autumn term.

Providers in the most deprived areas, as well as those in London and the West Midlands, reported the lowest take-up of places.

Ofsted attributed this to factors such as changes to parental employment, including furlough, working from home and unemployment.

They also said that some parents with health concerns in particular were anxious about sending their children back to nursery.

The report also highlights providers’ financial concerns and the implications for their businesses of ‘a longer-term fall in demand.’

The report said, ‘Almost half of providers we spoke to in the autumn term rated financial difficulties among the top three challenges they faced, having absorbed additional costs (such as for personal protective equipment) alongside reduced income. Some said that government funding was an issue, including funding for increased numbers of children with SEND, and a few were worried about having to repay their government loan.

‘Looking ahead, we are concerned by some reports that disadvantaged children and those with SEND are less likely to be attending early years provision than before the pandemic.

‘There are also increasing numbers of summer-born children whose entry to Reception is deferred.  We will watch to see whether this pattern continues.’

Impact on staff

Some providers trained their staff on areas such as speech and language, special educational needs and mental health, while others provided training in ‘conflict resolution and in how to keep two-year-olds engaged.’

While ‘bubbles’ meant that staff were able to get to know their children really well’ they were ‘not able to give their children the same levels of freedom as before.’

The report also noted that early years staff were ‘more stressed and felt their work was more difficult than during the pandemic. Despite this , there was an increased appreciation of the importance of early years and ant felt honoured to be working to support children during this time.’

However, inspectors found that many staff in inadequate providers did not have the skills and training they needed and lacked high expectations for children’s learning.

‘In these providers, staffing levels and arrangements did not ensure that children were supervised effectively at all times,’ said the report. ‘We saw children left to cry not being adequately settled in the setting. There were several examples where this led to children’s safety being compromised.’

In numbers

There are around 71,000 early years and childcare providers registered with Ofsted.

Of these, around 55,700 are registered on the Early Years Register and provide care and education for children aged between birth and five years old.

Ninety-seven per cent of all early years providers were judged either good or outstanding at their most recent inspection.

Ofsted said, ‘This overall proportion of good or outstanding providers (97 per cent) remains relatively unchanged since last year, which is to be expected as graded inspections were paused for most of the year due to Covid-19.’

Ofsted resumed on-site inspections under the education inspection framework (EIF) for registered early years providers in May. Ofsted prioritised providers:

  • judged less than good at their last inspection (including those that received an interim visit in the autumn term)
  • registered recently and that had not been previously inspected
  • whose first inspection was overdue
  • that were not inspected in the last inspection cycle due to the pause in routine inspection.

Of the 1,730 full inspections Ofsted carried out this reporting year, a large majority (65 per cent) were ‘post-registration’ inspections of providers whose first inspection was overdue, or that had recently registered. Ofsted found that 88 per cent of providers were good or outstanding at their first inspections.

Of the Childcare Register inspections Ofsted did in 2020/21, 83 per cent of providers met the requirements of registration.

A higher proportion of childminders that were inspected did not meet the requirements (25 per cent) compared with nurseries and pre-schools (11 per cent).

Regulatory visits

Ofsted made a higher number of regulatory visits, carrying out 8,070 regulatory visits compared with 4,740 visits in 2019/20.

The inspectorate aid that this was because in some case it made a regulatory visit when it would normally have made a full routine inspection in response to concerns.

Of 6,590 risk assessments, 16 per cent led to enforcement action, down from 19 per cent in 2019/20.

There were 290 suspensions of childcare providers in 2020/21 compared with 200 in 2019/20.

One third of those providers suspended resigned their registration or had it cancelled before August 2021.

Overall, around 3,920 providers had their registration cancelled in 2020/21.

Of these 62 were ‘serious issues such as unsuitable people, consistent failure to meet learning, development, safeguarding and/or welfare requirements, causing physical harm to children or leaving children unattended for significant periods of time.'

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